This is a bit of a self-indulgent blog, just warning the readers who may wish to switch of at this point (after the first 10 seconds} and move onto something more informative. “Time to flip to something else.” Maybe all blogs are essentially an internal self-indulgent monologue. This one is about teachers and schools with a spattering of flipped classroom thinking. Its aim is to force those who continue past this point to reflect on their own education and teaching and learning styles.

Did you ever have a teacher that could make you sit on the edge of your seat? A teacher that inspired and challenged you in a way that made learning magic? Because I didn’t. My experience of teachers was that they were all only able to induce sleep in me, even when it was my favourite subject? I lived (and still live) in a world full of paradox. Teachers all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn’t fun for most of them either. As my mum used to say, medicine if not “horrible” could not possibly do you any good. Work and fun were deemed to be opposites by definition.

Life had two states: some of the time teachers made you do things called work; the rest of the time you could do what you wanted, and that was called play. Play had no value. Work was essential to future life successes. School had to be tedious because it was preparation for grownup work, and this was going to be tedious too.

As a result I absolutely hated school. I had been bored for a long time at primary school and it just got worse in secondary school. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It may not have been a jail, but it certainly felt like it. Teachers decided what was best for me, dictating exactly how I spent every minute of every day on some long production line. “Ding” and time for me to move on to the next step in the industrial process of education.

I was no good at “work” but I was extremely good at being disruptive and it eventually had the desired result – I was told that if I continued my disruptive behaviour I would be asked to leave. I never thought of this outcome but remember thinking “what a great idea” when the headteacher said it. The first point I want to make is that far from the paradox I experienced in school, playing is not separate from work or learning. It IS learning. and work does not have to be boring or tedious for anyone.

Years later I became a teacher myself by accident. I had been doing very well and had been having fun as a freelance product designer, mainly designing robotics. I was also a successful DJ. My work was certainly not boring, it felt like play. But the government had decided that they wanted more people from industry to enter education and the enticement grant they offered was so attractive that I turned up to teacher training college in my new Jag a year later. In my head I was certainly NOT going to be a teacher on completion of the course, but I quite fancied becoming a training officer as they seemed at the time to earn more money for less brain use. (Yes laziness has always been a fault of mine and any designers and business owners reading this will appreciate how hard solving problems all day for a living can be). I had been given an opportunity to stop doing grown up work and to play for a while.

It was not until I was sent into a very rough school on teaching practice that I realised detesting school had been a really good learning experience for me, I seemed to understand the magic of motivation and structured play as it was essentially just the opposite of my own boring “work” experiences at school. For me it was instinctive.

I am not saying that keeping students motivated and engaged in learning is an easy task to achieve. Motivation requires a mixture of magic effects, illusions and innovation, with seamlessly integrated into the teaching/learning process. But all my forced school education had taught me what not to do as a teacher. We need to inspire teachers to change the way they’ve always done things, and motivate them to bring technology into their classrooms. If teachers are bored their students are bound to be.

Of course after a few years of teaching I came to realise that I was still imprisoned, but now by the establishment rather than my teachers. The bells still rang and the product moved on to the next process. As a loose canon I needed to return to the freedom of running my own business, it just became an education business rather than designing robots (pun intended).

Interestingly earlier this year I joined Facebook and within three weeks was connected to all of the students I used to teach 30 years ago – 700 of them. But what they remember lovingly is the music I played, the concerts I took them to, the youth club I ran and the fun we had….. and a bit of what I taught, but not always in the most positive way.

Flipped classrooms, chunking and new technology have revolutionised the way learning and work can co-exist and be fun. Today students can stop, pause, revisit, and fast forward material so that they can study things in their own way, at there own pace. 21c learning has become a buzz word – but was it ever not important?

I still like to make educational magic happen and have just started a new venture (watch this space). I suppose I still hate school but I really love learning. So its all about magic and a little free range learning. And yes learning is magic and fun to me, even though I now know how the magic is done… ps for me learning, fun and work do mix, quite well actually.

Steve Cushing